HOLY SHIT! I am so blown away by the response this story has gotten and with one chapter no less. It just proves how special this fandom is and how unbelievably awesome Everlark shippers are. I love you all and our strange fangirl makeshift family. All of the reviews, follows, and favorites make me so happy and smile when at times I debate to stop writing all together. So again, thank you all.

I am such a dork for not saying how old James is, it is told in this chapter, but to just let you know he is sixteen.

And because I'm a super!geek, I have picked the faces for James and Maisie

Lucas Till as James Everdeen (Mellark)

Adelaide Kane as Maisie Hawthorne

As always thank you to my Beta and number one fangirl Scoutchick104.

I can be reached on tumblr under the username: stacylk.

Notice: There are Violent Situations in this chapter. Please Be a Responsible Reader.

Chapter Two

ii. when it got cold, ooh, ooh, we bundled up


The halls are more crowded with my fellow sixteen year olds, than I would have preferred, mostly because it seems that my presence doesn't seem to quell the gossip but only fuel it; even after all these years I'm still the topic of most rumors. I try to keep as invisible as possible as I weave through the bustle of the upper school, walking close to the walls lined with faded murals depicting Capitol propaganda. It's a sight I should be used to by now but it never fails to turn my stomach, settling down in my gut to simmer into a rage that I have to vent or else I feel as though I'll explode. The weekly hunting excursions that Garrett and I take beyond the fence are a convenient time to blow off any steam, and more times than most my best friend has more of an opinion on the topic than I do. Which; if I'm honest is to be expected seeing how Mr. Hawthorne has always been vocal about his dislike towards the Capitol and his children share the same disgust. Over the years he and I have had our discussions over the mistreatment of the districts and the enforcement of the treaty that allows the Capitol to force our children into arenas. It's a time I look forward to, seeing how my mother refuses any discussion resembling rebellion to take place in our home. I don't mistake her refusal for any loyalty towards the Capitol, but for fear of our safety and the lengths the Capitol would go to prevent the events of the Dark Days reoccurring, other than The Hunger Games.

I push off of the wall when there's a lull amongst the body of people, and begin to walk down the center of the hall, passing the Applied Sciences classrooms, courses that in reality are nothing but a precursor to a life spent down in the mines. I try to fight the shiver that runs down my back when I think that in only a few years that'll be my fate and I know how much sleep my mother looses over that inevitability. My pulse has begun to race at the mere thought of it and I attempt to calm my nerves, sweat already forming at my temple. When I round the corner I pass a wall of windows that looks out into the courtyard that exists between the first and upper school. I stop in front of the glass to inspect my appearance, as I reach into my head of disheveled curls. My attempts only cause the ash blonde strands to become messier and I exhale in annoyance, my hair has always been an irritation; the appearance of it being in stark contrast to others from the Seam. The steely grey of my eyes catch my attention, as I see the flecks of blue littered there. And it isn't long till I'm studying the rest of my features from my strong jaw line to my broad shoulders, characteristics that I share with the Merchant Class instead of the Seam ; its residents the only family I've ever known. I've lost many hours staring at myself in the mirror, trying to decide what features I inherited from my mother, so I could accurately find what had came from my father. I'm constantly searching for something, an answer to a question possibly, but there are times that the search resembles the need to belong more than anything.

Suddenly, my body collides into the glass and I hold my hands out to brace myself when I feel a strong hand at my shoulder, pulling me back into a standing position. Before I can utter a curse I notice the smirk on my best friend's face as he playfully brushes my shoulders off with an exaggerated wave of his hand. I push him off which only earns me a string of laughter, that shakes his lanky form, causing him to hunch over.

I reach down to the hem of my plain button up pulling the fabric down. "Damn Hawthorne! You know I hate it when you do that shit."

Garrett runs a hand through his dark hair as he attempts to steady his breathing. "You… you are too easy."

I roll my eyes trying to fight my own smile as I continue down the hall leaving him behind me until he catches up, now walking at my side. "Why am I even friends with you?"

Garrett scratches the scruff at his jaw feigning deep thought, before snapping his fingers. "Because: no one else will?"

I nudge him playfully in the ribs as I nod. "Damn right."

"I'm a special breed of asshole that only, James Everdeen can handle."

A throaty laugh escapes my mouth and I can't stop the wide grin from forming. "I suppose I should be honored?"

Garrett laughs before his face becomes solemn. "Did your mom absolutely freak out about the tesserae?"

I turn to him in mid-step, raising a brow. "What do you think?"

Garrett nods, side stepping past a group of Merchant girls who giggle as he passes. I glance back at them but their attention is fully on him and he doesn't seem to pay them the least amount of mind. Garrett's fairly transparent about his feeling toward the Merchant class, but that hasn't stopped him from taking a few of them out to the slag heap and in doing so has earned himself quite the reputation. I myself on the other hand couldn't be farther off their radar even if I ran through the district completely naked. They continue to giggle and brush their blonde hair behind their ears as we round the corner out of sight and I release the breath I was holding, even after all these years I still feel nervous around the Merchant class, especially the girls, and one is particular.

Garrett is still oblivious as we continue down the hall. "How pissed off was she?"

I work my hand through my hair as my other holds onto the few worn textbooks I was issued. "Let me just put it this way, she was quiet most of the time." I stare off for a few seconds before continuing. "I don't know, man. I think I broke her heart."

"And I'm the fucking jerk that accepted it." I can hear the doubt in his voice, his usually bravado is gone and it worries me that he's beginning to blame himself for my rash decision. I look over to my best friend, who in reality is more like a brother, his shoulders are hunched over and the vulnerability he's exhibiting is a far cry from his usual cocky demeanor. Garrett isn't one to show weakness and I know how self conscious he can be about his health, something that only a chosen few in the district are aware of. We were just twelve, when we had begun to take over the hunting and gathering duties for our parents. My mother had her work at the Hob, taking care of the stall that she shared with Greasy Sae, and Mr. Hawthorne had to take on double shifts at the mines. It had been something we had both waited for since we were five, and we marveled at the freedom that the space beyond the fence held.

It was only a few months later ,when after inspecting a snare line Garrett had collapsed, I at first rolled my eyes at his attempt to tease and irritate me, something he found mirth in most of the time. However, after a few seconds of watching , his body became still and I threw my bow and quiver down, running over to him. The sharp rocks that littered the ground dug into my knees as I rolled him over onto his back, I gasped as I saw how blue his lips had become, and I knew I needed to act. At twelve I hadn't yet grown into my broad shoulders and most of my baby fat was still present, but Garrett was taller by more than a few inches and he had already begun to grow into his features. So acting primarily on instinct I grabbed hold of his shoulder and hoisted him onto one of my mine and made the mile hike to where the fence was.

After my grandmother and aunt, the district's healers had leveled out his breathing, it was discovered that he had a heart defect, something they called a murmur, that could be treatable with herbs, so Garrett wouldn't lose any of his strength or activeness. Even at twelve the reality that the Hunger Games now loomed in our future didn't escape me, or the fact that even though Garrett could continue hunting, his heart may not be able to handle the stress that comes from participating in an arena death match. So as the years passed and we were spared as tributes, I breathed in relief, but recently when his father could no longer pull double shifts at the mines, the Hawthorne's were in desperate need of the extra grain and I didn't need to think twice to act.

My mind comes back to the present as I wave him off trying to ease his mind. "Don't worry about it. Besides we can't change it now."

Garrett exhales slowly. "You're right. I just want you to know-"

I hold my hand up cutting him off. "Hawthorne, gratitude doesn't fit into your personality. So let's just let it be."

Garrett laughs as he glances at me. "We're a pair aren't we? The boy with the crap heart and the one without a proper name."

I roll my eyes. "You know I hate those bastard jokes, and anyway aren't you more comfortable with being an ass than being funny?"

He shakes his head before punching me in the arm, causing me to lose my balance. I can hear the footsteps behind me but I can't find my footing before I fall back into something, or specifically someone. I'm about to apologize my hands landing at the nearest wall, when I turn around and find her hazel eyes. The rims are red and swollen from what I can assume is an irritant, but when my eyes travel down to her cheeks and I see the tear tracks, I know she's been crying over something. I feel frozen in place as I marvel at how beautiful she is even in her distressed state. A few strands of her dirty blonde hair have escaped the usual bun that sits at the nape of her neck, and I fight the urge to brush the hair away. I'm not sure how long we've been watching the other, but a loud cough behind me breaks our gaze as I glance over my shoulder to see Garrett eyeing me warily. I roll my eyes at him before turning my attention back to the girl in front of me, the one with the hazel eyes and blonde hair that sets off her fair skin, especially when the sun light shines off of the strands. She's the girl with a light sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her pert nose, freckles that I want to gently kiss each time I see her. I'm now looking into the eyes of Amelia Bowman, Merchant girl and Mayor's daughter that I've been in love with since I was six years old.

I can't seem to find my voice and instead of speaking like a normal human being I give her a crooked smile and run my hand through my hair, the curls tangling in my fingers. Her eyes flit up to my hand and I try to seem calm and collected but my fingers become caught and I have to pull my hand free. I want to kick myself for acting like such a damn fool in front of the girl I adore, but then I have to remind myself that there's a reason she's walking on the side of the school where you usually only see Seam kids. Why she's not surrounded by any other Merchant girls, the usual suspects that I see hanging around her, and why her face is flushed and her eyes swollen. I finally feel as though I can speak when Amelia gives me a weak smile and walks around me, my eyes follow her until her petite form rounds the corner.

Garrett steps in front of me, his eyes serious. "You need to forget about that one." I raise a brow trying to feign ignorance, but he's not convinced as he shakes his head. "I see the way you've always watched her, hell Maizie piss whines about it every damn time she catches you ogling the Merchant girl."

I furrow my brow, genuinely surprised now. "I don't ogle and why would your sister care about who I supposedly watch?"

Garrett lets out a low laugh. "Come on, you have to know how long she's had that annoying crush on you."

I shake my head trying to clear it. "Alright, but other than Maizie's …affection. What makes Amelia Bowman so off limits?"

Garrett actually snorts before he replies. "You mean other than the fact that she's a Merchant? And let's not forget the mayor's daughter or that they're wealthier than anyone else in the district."

I hold my hand up quickly, pointing at him. "Don't give me that, you've boasted more than once about having your hand under plenty of Merchant girl's skirts."

"Yeah, but I don't look at them like I have real feelings for them like you do with this girl." I begin to open my mouth to speak, to argue his very real accusation but he cuts me off. "And if you even did have a chance with her, you wouldn't want to try."

I'm more than dumbfounded at what he's insinuating. "What are you talking about?"

I watch Garrett scratch the side of his face, the lines at his brow worried. "You really haven't listened to what people are saying today? Have you?"

I lean my head back exhaling dramatically, before facing him again. "Hawthorne, you know that I of all people don't listen to that shit."

I can see the apprehension on his face and I try to prepare myself for whatever he's about to say next. "Some of the Merchant guys were talking, and not just them but most of the upper school." He shifts his eyes to the side before giving me his full attention once more. "It's going around that your dream girl had sex with Mitchell Donovan and a couple of his friends at the same time, and I don't have to tell you how scandalous that is for anyone but especially a Merchant."

I narrow my eyes. "And you believe what they're saying?"

Garrett nods his head and I suddenly feel angry. "It gets to the point where you can't help but believe it."

"Says the guy who's never had anything spread around about him, but I have and it's pretty shitty to have people think about you like you're just a piece of gossip."

"Why are you getting so worked up over this? You don't even know this girl."

I try to seem indifferent but I can't stop the fury that's welling up in my gut. Instead of responding I decide I need to gain as much distance as I can as I step around Garrett heading down the hall towards my next class. I can hear him yelling at me to stop but I don't slow my pace till I'm at the door and the bell rings above my head signifying my tardiness. I groan as I push the door open dreading the lecture I'm sure to get from Mr. Wilford.

I spot him at the board scratching the white chalk over the surface, his comb over slipping over his forehead each time his neck cranes up, and I have to fight the urge to snicker as he pushes the hair back for the second time since I've walked into the room. The noise level is still high since he hasn't instructed the class to quiet down in his usual nasally voice, which earns him more than one mocking glance each time he speaks. I look up to the chalk board reading the same phrase I see each time I step into the room; History of Panem, I roll my eyes at the name since it's safe to assume that most of the curriculum is bullshit propaganda. I turn into the row of desks that lead to the one in the back I usually occupy, but my boots decide to squeak when I'm directly behind the surly man and I can see his shoulders tense, I'm not exactly one of his favorite people.

He keeps facing the board as he speaks, the nasal tone causing me to slightly cringe. "Mr. Everdeen; how pleasant of you to join us."

I grit my teeth as I keep my place. "Oh, the pleasure is all, mine sir." I don't wait for him to respond as I walk down the row, occasionally waiting for someone to lean back into their seat as they conduct their discussions while nearly hanging out of their desks and into the walk way.

The chatter seems to be heightened more than usual and I just attribute it to the last official school day before the reaping comes along in a few short weeks. Everyone always comes across more intense before the start of The Hunger Games, and I suppose the unknown of it all can set anyone on edge, well that and the impending death of two children from our district. I finally make it to my seat, setting my books down as I slip my sketch book free, flipping to a blank page; I pull the pencil I had placed between the pages and begin to draw. It always seems to calm me, and seeing as I'm still agitated from my talk with Garrett I need to relax. Pushing the lead over the thick paper is already making me feel more like myself again when I hear the door close over the noise of the room and then everything goes silent, eerily so.

I look up to where I notice everyone else's eyes are trained and I see her standing there, her books clutched to her chest, her arms shaking. From where I sit I can see that her face is even more flushed than it was in the hall, if that's possible, and I fight the urge to walk over to her. She looks so frightened and a bit broken, so unlike the lively girl I'm used to seeing. And then as quickly as the chatter had stopped it starts up again, and wails of laughter echo through the room, primarily from the group of Merchant boys at the front. I crane my neck to see the ring leader in the middle, and it doesn't surprise me when I notice Mitchell's short blonde hair, he's motioning something with his hands, but I can't quite see what he's doing, although it does earn a louder round of laughter from his friends. Amelia's eyes fill with tears once more before she turns to run out of the room and the room explodes with laughter again, until finally Mr. Wilford attempts to quiet everyone down. I don't pay attention when he begins to talk laying out the same lesson plan that we learn every day, instead I keep my eyes trained on the spot where she had been standing. I keep replaying the expression on her face, it was utterly defeated, and I feel a fury towards the ones terrorizing her, but more so I'm angry at myself for not standing up for or at least going to comfort her. My grip tightens on the pencil in my hand and the lead snaps when I press down too hard causing it to break.

The rest of the day goes by without anything noteworthy occurring, and I'm at least a bit thankful for the routine. However, I can't stop my concern over Amelia invading my mind, as I search for her in the crowds of people throughout the day. I haven't seen Garrett since our disagreement either, and I'm almost dreading the moment when I'll have to apologize for over reacting, he can be blunt at times and it's been known to irritate me but I suppose he was only trying to look out for me. A cool breeze picks up as I sit at one of the outside tables located in the courtyard, the ends of the pages of my sketchbook lift up a bit and I hold the book down as I work on the drawing I had started this morning. The dark pencil mark from when I had broken the point is barely noticeable now, but I can still see it and I wonder why I keep searching it out. A shadow settles over the page and I look up to see Garrett standing in front of the bench watching me closely.

A tight smile forms at his mouth. "So I'm thinking I was being a complete asshole earlier."

I shake my head, as I close the book. "You know that you and thinking is never a good combination." He lets out a loud laugh as he sits down across from me. "I was a jerk too. You were right though. I don't know her, and the likelihood of her noticing me is slim. I mean I'm a bastard from the Seam, I'm my own cautionary tale."

Garrett leaned over to push at my shoulder before sitting back. "It pisses me off when you talk about yourself like that."

I'm about to respond when I see Amelia cross in front of our table, and for a split second her eyes connect with mine and everything slows down, the gold flecks of her hazel eyes are glowing from her crying and I think I hear myself gasp from how beautiful she truly is, but all I can hear is my pulse thrumming in my ears. Her thick blonde hair is completely free from its bun and it runs down her back in waves, and I'm absolutely stuck in the moment of watching her movements and then as fast as it slowed down time seems to wind forward and everything returns to normal speed. And in an excruciating act she tears her eyes from mine to walk across the courtyard towards the Merchant Square. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Garrett watch me warily and I know he's still worried about my affection towards Amelia.

I'm still looking in the direction of where she disappeared around the corner when I hear footsteps approaching and by the smell of cheap cologne I don't have to turn around to be positive that a group of Merchant boys are standing behind me. My back tenses up when I hear their movements behind me and I can see Garrett's hands curl into fists on top of the table. He's glaring up above my head but I stare at him until he looks at me and I shake my head slightly. There's Peacekeepers walking by and I don't want him to get punished for coming to my rescue, we've manage to stay out of any real trouble so far and we don't need any attention since we're known poachers.

I'm trying to keep calm when Mitchell sits down beside me, his legs straddling the bench. "I saw you watching the Bowman girl, and I think I should let you know that she's not as much as fun as she looks." I close my eyes trying to remain calm but I can feel him lean forward. "But I guess a bastard like you will take any pussy he can get, even the tight little bitches that can barely keep a guy hard."

He begins to laugh, his friends joining in and it's then that I see red. I'm barely aware of what I'm doing when I turn towards him to grab a hold of his neck, my nails digging into the skin there as I slam the side of his face into the table. The wood shakes from the action and in a second we've both tumbled onto the ground in a flurry of punches. I'm able to gain the upper hand, my fist connecting with his jaw more than once before his friends pull me off of him and try to deliver their own damage. Only one shot is sent to my ribs, as I bend over in pain before Garrett is throwing one of the guys to the ground. Mitchell is still writhing on the ground holding his face as I head butt the Merchant boy that still has a hold of me. I'm about to punish Mitchell further when Garrett shakes me trying to gain my attention. I look over to where he's motioning, a couple of Peacekeepers are walking our way and Garrett quickly gathers our books, pulling me towards the opposite end of the courtyard. I try to fight him off but he tells me to be quiet leading me to the Merchant Square. My lips burn and I can taste the blood from my split lip on my tongue. I'm assuming he's taking me to my Aunt Prim, the district's healer, and I dread her questions but even more I fear the disappointment I'm eventually going to see in my Mother's eyes.

iii.i can't be told, ah, ah, it can't be done.


A gust of coal dust hangs in the air as my feet kick up the dirt while I run the short distance between the Hob and my sister's home, where she has her business as a healer set up. I know that I may seem like a wild woman to the people that I pass on the dirt road, but my mind is racing over all of the possibilities as to why my son is in need of a healer, and all the scenarios lean towards the dire. I try to push myself to go faster but my physical capabilities are nowhere near what I wished them to be in this moment. My anxiety hadn't lessened but only increased, since Bristol Hawthorne came up to my stall at the Hob and informed me that her son Garrett had to take James to my sister, because he was hurt. She had no real information and I tried not to resent her for her ignorance as I ran from behind the counter, barely murmuring an explanation to Sae, before I was pushing through the thick crowds and heading for the door.

As I round the corner to where Prim's home lies at the edge of the Seam, a fortunate location since most Merchants refuse to venture far into our neighborhood even after all these years. It also helps that my sister is the only competent source of medicinal help, since the current apothecary is severely inept. I breathe a sigh of relief when I spot him sitting at the edge of the stairs, his head in his hands as the oldest Hawthorne child stands over him. The crown of his golden curls shine in the sun light and I'm struck with how much he resembles his father, a fact which causes my steps to falter but the speed as to which I run never decreases. I slow down my pace when I'm halfway there, and I push the stray strands that have escaped my braid behind my ears. I'm nearly in front of him until he lifts his head to face me, and I try to hold back a gasp as I kneel down to take his face in my hands. James won't meet my eyes as I inspect his bruised jaw and split lip, the skin is inflamed and a vision of similar injuries belonging to the only other boy I've ever loved flashes in my mind. He's staring over my shoulder and head as I turn his face to each side, further taking in the damage, my tongue clucking with disappointment.

I release his face as I stand up, my hands at my hips, as my worry has now ebbed and I'm on the verge of being furious. I turn to Garrett who averts his eyes from mine, both he and James have their shoulders hunched over, expecting the scolding that I feel entitled to give out.

I place my hands over my face attempting to calm my breathing. "You both can understand my confusion and out right fear when I had to hear from your mother Garrett that my only son was at the healers. She didn't have any more information than that. So please tell me boys, what the hell happened?"

I look to James who now meets my eyes, his expression stoic and unreadable. "Does it even matter now, mother?" I narrow my eyes trying to size him up but he has too much of Peeta embedded into his personality and it's difficult to manipulate him into anything he's not willing to give. However, I can hear Garrett shuffling his feet beside me, clearly nervous, he too is too much like his own father but unlike Peeta, Gale was easy to read, and so now is his son.

I feign a smile as I turn to the dark haired boy, his eyes darting about like a scared child after he's done something wrong. "Garrett, sweetheart what exactly happened?"

Garrett opens his mouth to speak but closes it quickly and I can see James sit up from the corner of my eye. He frantically shakes his head as he attempts to mouth speechless words to his friend, but I step into Garrett's line of sight. His eyes widen as I continue to stare him down and I can physically see his resolve crumble.

He gives a heavy sigh. "It was a fight with some Merchant boys." I wave him to continue on as I hear James groan behind me. "One of them was dogging James over the Mayor's daughter, Amelia."

I furrow my brow. "Why would that initiate a fight?"

I can hear James jump up from the stairs, but Garrett keeps eyes contact as a smile spreads over his lips. "James has had a thing for that girl since we were in first school." He looks over my shoulder as his face falls. "You didn't know? Did you?"

James walks around me to stand at Garrett's side. "No, but she does now, thanks, buddy."

I shake my head as Garrett turns to my son, his voice not as low as he would have liked. "Sorry, but your mom scares me." He mutters an apology to me and places a hand on James' shoulder as he turns to walk down the path that leads further into the Seam.

I wait until he's out of ear shot until I step into James' personal space, at sixteen, he already towers over me by a good three inches, something he inherited from his father. However, I don't let the height difference deter me from scolding him as I reach up and poke his split lip.

He steps back, swatting at me as he holds his lips with the other hand. "What was that for?"

I cross my arms over my chest, ignoring his comment. "The Mayor's daughter! Really, James?"

He drops his hands, his expression pinched. "I never thought I'd get the disapproval over the classes mixing speech from you, mom."

I narrow my eyes. "This has nothing to do with that and I would hope you respected me enough to not think of me as so narrow minded." I exhale a breath. "But it does have to do with the risk of you getting into frivolous fights over a girl. Do you want the Peacekeepers to keep a closer on eye on you?" He shifts his eyes over to the side as I step forward. "What we do by hunting outside of the district is dangerous, and even though they're all aware of it, they only allow it to happen because they are also benefitting from it." I can see his shoulders tense and sense that he wants to argue but instead he keeps silent. "What do you think they'll do when they deem you a problem? You have to be careful, James. You need to, rise above all of this teenage foolishness."

James shakes his head, as he scoffs. "So I'm supposed to be the exception, and not interfere even when I should?"

I'm already exasperated, as I throw my arms up in the air. "Yes!"

He turns to me, his normally soft, eyes are hard and I can see the muscle at his jaw ticking, he's obviously upset with me and a part of me doesn't blame him, because I've just asked him to deny his nature and even to me it feels like an act of betrayal. I'm about to speak, because the silence that has fallen between us is so stifling I'm beginning to feel ill, but my words are cut short when I see someone jogging up behind James. I attempt to keep my expression indifferent but a scowl forms over my lips anyway, and I'm once again irritated over the effect, Peeta Mellark has over me.

His golden curls, which he wears shorter now that he's older, are disheveled from the exertion I assume, and he runs his hands through the strands as he approaches us. His eyes lock with mine and I see that they are wide with worry as they shift over to James who isn't yet aware of the older man's presence.

Peeta attempts to steady his gate, but I can that he too has loss the stamina that comes with youth, although he seems to recover sooner than I would have assumed. He slows his pace as he walks over to my side to stand in front of James, causing his posture to relax and I can't stop the tinge of jealousy that runs through my mind.

I'm still frozen, in shock of him showing up unannounced but Peeta has already shifted into a state of confidence as he turns to me, tipping his head in greeting. "Katniss."

I grit my teeth and hope that James cannot read me as well as I presume he can. "Mr. Mellark." I keep my eyes on James, because if I look at Peeta I know that it'll become difficult to quell my temper.

He seems to be unaffected by my cold demeanor, as he turns his attention to James who's taking in our interaction. "I saw the Donovan boy practically crawling to the apothecary's." Peeta gives a light chuckle before he continues. "It serves him right that he would go there since the current apothecary is a hack."

James gives him a genuine smile and I again feel that ping of envy. "I appreciate you coming all this way to check up on me, Mr. Mellark."

I finally turn to Peeta who glances at me before turning back to James. "Yes, it was quite a ways for you to come." My voice is clipped and I can see his shoulders tense, until they resume their previously relaxed state.

Peeta's words wash over my irritation as he addresses James. "I was working the front of the bakery when some customers came in chatting about it."

I open my mouth to give him further grief as he steps forward gently grabbing hold of James face, inspecting his injuries. James is more willing for him to look over his bruises than he was when I was doing so, and I try not to obsess over the reason why.

I hear Peeta give off a low whistle as he releases James' face. "I have to give you credit kid, you seemed to give more punishment than you sustained." He reached up gently touching one of the bruises at James jaw before dropping his hand again. "I would get plenty of bruises when I was wrestling in school, fat lips too. They should heal up nicely, but let Prim take care of those." He leans in to James lowering his voice. "Besides, a few bruises are worth it to make sure that Mitchell Donovan becomes a little less pretty." James gives him a toothy grin as he laughs. "His father was an ass too, I think it's genetic." They both begin to laugh, as I'm left out to watch their bonding from the side lines.

It's all too much for me at once as my temper reaches a boiling point. "I don't see what's so funny here! James you could have been seriously injured!" Both men look to me; as a flush forms at my cheeks, and I know that I'm visibly fuming at this point.

The smile at James' lips falters for a moment. "But I wasn't mom."

I work my hands through the loose strands that had escaped my braid, as I try not to look over to Peeta who I can feel watching me. The tension is palpable, and I nearly feel like crying as the adrenaline has begun to ebb. The opening of the front door is a temporary reprieve as my sister walks onto the porch, her blonde hair is pulled back, but still falls down her back in golden waves.

Her eyes shift between Peeta and I, and I can almost read her thoughts as she gives me a questioning lift of her brow. I shrug as she nods at Peeta. "Well Peeta, what a pleasant surprise."

Peeta does the same, a smile at his lips. "You too, Prim, as always."

The air is heavy and I fight the urge to inhale as the last few minutes of tension threaten to suffocate me. I see Prim eye me with concern before she wipes her hands on the skirt of her dress and waves James on.

Her smile is bright and inviting as ever as she looks to her nephew. "Come on, sweetie. Let's treat that cut."

James nods as he gives me a glance, I reach out to squeeze his arm reassuringly. "I'll be here when you're done, rabbit."

He looks behind his shoulder to Peeta as he walks up the steps to join Prim on the porch, she wraps an arm around him in a partial hug and ushers him in. I wait until the door is shut, leaving both Peeta and I alone, before I turn to him.

I can already feel my muscles tensing in anger as I unleash on him. "What are you doing here? You can't just show up. Peeta people are going to wonder why the bachelor baker was so concerned with the child of an unmarried Seam woman."

Peeta shakes his head as he works his hands through his hair, a habit he does to calm himself down. It's odd that after all these years I still know him better than myself. "And you shouldn't be angry with me when I'm concerned about him." He rubbed at his face harshly. "Besides, I don't care if people do connect it all. You try so hard to keep all of this a secret because you think you're protecting him but all you're doing is more damage. Why?"

I step into him. "He's my son. I'm his mother."

Peeta's eyes began to hold an edge to them that I hadn't seen in years. "And I'm his father."

I can feel a few tears begin to gather at the corners of my eyes. "I know that."

He studies my face before speaking. "Do you?" His eyes have softened a bit but I can clearly hear his pain reflected in his voice. "I just had to see if he was alright. You have no idea how frantic I was when I saw that Mitchell kid all beaten up. I can only assume how crazed I looked to my customers as I ran out of the bakery."

I gave him a small smile , remembering how I too had panicked when James' situation had gotten back to me. "I can imagine."

Peeta sighs as he continues to lock eyes with mine, and I'm suddenly reminded of how handsome he still is. "You can't reprimand me for caring about him, and you should recognize the hell I've had to go through all these watching him from afar." I can see his own tears begin to build as one slips down his cheek. "It's like someone has torn a part of my soul away, and it's always barely out of arm's reach."

I turn my back to him because I'm not sure how much longer I can see him in pain. I have always reminded myself that the arrangement was for the best, and keeping Peeta out our lives was easier for me than having to see the harm I've caused him up close."You remember our agreement, it's to keep him safe." I hug my sides, attempting to not fall apart while standing in my sister's yard where any passerby can see.

Peeta walks around me so that I'm forced to acknowledge his presence. "That was when my mother was still alive, and the reality of her causing him harm was possible. But it's not like that anymore, and I want to have the chance to know my son. He's still of reaping age, and it is torture having to stand in the crowd and hope that his name isn't called."

I stand my ground as I look at him and I feel my own tears run down my face. "It isn't any different for me."

He shakes his head. "It is different for you because you've been able to be in his life. I haven't had the opportunity to be more than the baker that he trades with." He inhales slowly. "I thought at first that leaving bread and coins at your doorstep to ensure that he had all that he needed was enough, but it's not, Katniss."

I narrow my eyes which causes my stray tears to fall at my cheeks. "What are you saying, Peeta?"

He squares his shoulders and the resolve from before, is back. "I'm saying that I can't abide by this anymore." He pauses as he looks me in my eyes. "I'm saying that I will be in his life, and I hope that you won't deny me that any longer. But even if you do, it won't stop me. I can promise you that."

I watch as he turns to go, and I'm filled with an overpowering panic, because more than anything I fear the look of disappointment in my son's eyes.

A/N:I hope that was worth the nearly month long wait, so sorry about that. And please don't judge Peeta too harshly, it's all very complicated. Also unfortunately I won't be updating this story until I've completed another one of mine "The Other Hawthorne", writing 5 stories at a time was getting to be too much for me. But without that added work load I should be able to finish it quite quickly and get back to my other ones. Please Review! I'd love to know what you all think.-S